December 9, 2015:
Western counter-terrorism experts, including some diplomats with long experience in the Middle East have long urged Moslem leaders, especially respected clergy, to go public with misgivings about how Islamic terrorists misinterpret Islamic scripture to justify their evil agenda. Until recently these scholars were silent mainly because they were intimidated. Moslem religious conservatives, as well as Islamic terrorists, were quick to shout down Moslem clerics who criticized the “holy warriors”. But after more than two decades of massive slaughter by Islamic terrorists the Islamic scholars are finding more popular support than opposition among Moslems and are banding together and going public. Ironically what got this rolling was a compelling criticism of dubious and often obviously erroneous interpretations of Islamic scripture used by ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) to justify their savage behavior. This lengthy document was signed by hundreds of Islamic scholars, some of them not Moslem and posted on the Internet in late 2014. This received a warm welcome on Facebook and other places where it was posted. Among the more than 100,000 people responding openly praising the criticism were many senior Islamic scholars. This 76 page criticism of Islamic terrorist ideology may, in the long run, do more damage to the current outbreak of Islamic terrorism that all the bombs and bullets directed at the holy warriors by Moslems and non-Moslems alike.
This incident was part of a trend in Arab media where a growing number of articles, letters-to-the-editor and online comments point out some obvious (but unpopular) truths about the Arab world. These include certain obvious facts; that most Moslem victims of violence are killed by other Moslems and despite over half a century of animosity towards Israel by a larger, and because of oil income, quite wealthy Arab coalition, Israel not only still exists but thrives compared to its Arab opponents. By every measure the much reviled Jews have done better than the Arabs. Until recently Arabs openly discussing these truths faced arrest or violence (often fatal) from those opposed to freely talking about a lot of forbidden subjects. But after decades of living the lies more and more Arabs, including many leaders and senior business, government and religious officials are mentioning the unmentionable. This discussion often includes pointing out those Arab states that seem to be doing better; like Dubai and some other states the UAE/United Arab Emirates. It then follows that the successful Arab states are much less corrupt, better run and, well, more like Israel (but without lots of Jews). Linked to this is the growing popular opposition to Islamic terrorism, which was long praised, or at least tolerated, because this seemed the only Islamic weapon that could harm Israel.
In the past reference, especially by Israelis or Westerners, to cultural differences to explain Arab problems was immediately jumped on by political demagogues and media pundits worldwide as a racist remark. But it was never that and now that is obvious as Arab leaders have been openly discussing the same problem. Those discussions are often ignored by the demagogues and pundits, especially in the West. More's the pity because there is a cultural crisis in the Arab world in particular and the Moslem world in general and it is very serious. The crisis is expressed by a lack of economic, educational and political performance. By whatever measure you wish to use; Nobel prizes, patents awarded, books published or translated, GDP growth, the Arabs have fallen behind the rest of the world. Part of the problem is the Arab tendency to blame outsiders, and to avoid taking responsibility. Tolerating tyranny and resistance to change doesn't help either. Those attitudes are shifting, and for most of the last decade the war in Iraq became the center of this cultural battle.
The shift began with the 2003 invasion, which was reported by the Arab media at the time (as it was still going on) as a great defeat for the Western "crusader" army. Until, that is, it was all too obvious that American troops had battled their way to Baghdad in three weeks and were rapidly defeating Iraqi forced defending this cultural capital of the Arab world. This triggered a debate among Arabs that got little coverage in the West. It began when some Arab journalists openly pointed out that, in the Arab media Arab reporters had not only been writing fantastical stories that had no relationship to reality, but that this sort of thing had been going on for a long time and, gosh, maybe it had something to do with the sorry state of affairs in the Arab world. That particular debate is still going on, largely unnoticed in the West. This is the real war against terrorism, because the terrorists represent the forces of repression and backwardness in the Arab world and this talk of fundamental reform strikes at the heart of popular support for Islamic terrorism.
Some Arab leaders have been particularly outspoken. Back in 2007, at a meeting of the Arab League, the king of Saudi Arabia told the assembled rulers that the biggest problem in the Arab world was poor leadership. This was a bold statement, but not unusual for the senior people in the Saudi government. These princes have also been supporting the Arab Reform Movement, which is based on the idea that most of the Arab world's problems are internal, not the result of outside interference. Actually, most educated Arabs will readily admit that their leaders have been less than stellar and largely responsible for the corruption and bad decisions that have put the Arab world so far behind the West and every other region except Africa when it comes to economic growth.
Fundamental change comes slowly. All you have to do is study history to see that. Islam needs some fundamental change and it is arriving at its own speed.